Prosper's Demon - KJ Parker 2019, TOR Books
Provenance: This was in the box of books sent from TOR that I mentioned here. I promised I would read a couple other books in the box, and this was one. Some day I will explain why I feel a responsibility to read books sent to me, but that's not for today.
Review: Out in the virtual world of the Greater Web, the Orc Discussion is back. This is a frequent argument that explodes across the Internet every so often (and did so before there was an Internet). It quickly spirals out into numerous sub-discussions, digressions, and tangents. It allows people to complain bitterly about people that don't agree with them. It has applied to a number of different fantasy and science fiction projects and to a number of species. Right now, it applies to orcs and D&D.
The short version of this argument is: Are orcs (or whoever), being portrayed as being universally horrible, evil creatures, racist? Or spreading it out to its ultimate extension, is "All X are Y" a racist statement?
Yes, it is. What matters is what you do with it. As far as fiction is concerned, we have some options. Some writers subvert the idea, some reject it utterly, some invert it, and some accept it as a base-line rule for their universe and sees where it takes them. KJ Parker does the last one, and tells a good and disturbing story.
In Prosper's Demons, the "other" are demons. Yes, it is easier to say "All DEMONS are EVIL" than orcs, since that is pretty much a core concept with demons. Parker's demons are immortal, intangible, and very, very evil. Possessing people, inflicting great pain, and making them do unspeakable things-kinda evil. Our narrator is a exorcist, who has been fighting demons since literally before he was born. He's definitely dedicated to the proposition that All DEMONS are EVIL, and admits he is a horrible person from where that dedication takes him.
And the demons he fights are, well, evil. At the book's start, an old demonic combatant has taken control of the narrator (when he wasn't looking) and framed him for murder. But when the exorcist tracks down the old foe (demons are immortal - they can be driven out (usually at high cost to the host) but not killed) the foe sounds like an abused partner - hurt, wounded, and bullied. And yeah, our narrator is a cruel bully. No common ground possible here, and he LIKES hurting demons.
So the old foe finds another lodging. In a baby. Actually in the newborn heir of the local Emperor. Pulling the demon out will kill the kid, which would be a bad thing for our narrator's continued survival. As a bonus, the kid is going to be raised by the wisest man in the kingdom, who will turn the child into a perfect Philosopher King. And this wise man, Prosper, is ALSO possessed, by a different demon, one our exorcist has never met before.
But this new demon has been helping Prosper, keeping him focused, and helping him in his creativity. Doing things that are good for the kingdom and humanity in general. It is all part of a long-term plan that will come to fruition centuries after our exorcist is dust. Prosper is effectively DaVinci, right down to building a huge bronze horse, but enhanced and more effective. An effective Prosper is a good thing. What it boils down to is: will you deal with demons if it promises good things?
Prosper's Demons is a slender book, little more than the novella at the back end of an issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction. The story is nicely packed and neatly presented. The writing is dagger-sharp and the characters (including the demons) are well-limned. It is worth hunting down.
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